Ever since pistol-packing L.A. norteño bad boy Chalino Sanchez was killed in Culiacán in 1992, the comparisons between drug-trade-chronicling narco-corridos and gangsta rap have abounded. So it was only a matter of time till something like Matan Mi Gente would come along: an all-Spanish-language hardcore-rap record inspired by the tales of drug running and murder that underwrite the music of narco crooners like Los Tucanes de Tijuana and Los Huracanes del Norte. Hayward-based Dark Room Familia rappers Drew and Sir Dyno (currently doing time on drug charges) even take on alter egos as Los Traficantes to pull it off, posing as Locote and Tokztero, two rapping dealers who trade the ostrich-boots-and-Stetson look for pressed khakis and Aztlán baseball caps.
Lyrically, there's plenty of the usual narco fare on Matan -- shootouts with corrupt Federales, metaphoric references to AK-47s and the trade's infamous "three animals" (pot = rooster, coke = parrot, heroin = goat) -- but Los Traficantes remold it to fit the relentless violence cycles of Central Valley gangsterism. They add gabachos to the narco hit list, mourn dead homies, hang with Modesto coke mafiosos and, in Matan's ideological low point, dare to compare themselves to the Zapatistas. True-school politicos better start their engines: Los Traficantes get all civil-rights on us, too, slinging and killing in the name of brown pride, with recurring shouts of "Viva La Revolución" and "Que Viva La Raza."
But while Los Traficantes may look as far south as Michoacán for outlaw role models, they always return to their home turf for beats and rhymes. Save for an occasional button-accordion loop and two straight-outta-Sinaloa bookends from Grupo Potencia Norteña, Matan sticks to flat Bay Area thump-and-squeal production. Which leaves the narco hook as the only thing rescuing Los Traficantes from the gun-blast dustbin. (Josh Kun)
ART OF NOISE The Seduction of Claude Debussy (Universal)
The handful of albums released in the '80s and '90s by the English collective known as Art of Noise were never disposable. They weren't the kind of thing you played to death during the summer months of a particular year and then filed away, never to touch them again. The Art of Noise experience was one that always invited you to return to it, which is also true of the recently re-formed group's new work inspired by the music of composer Claude Debussy.
Circa late 1800s to 1918, Debussy made music that was decidedly French in style (a detail he ardently emphasized), yet he was a musician of an aberrantly modern sensibility, and strove to describe in sound the poetic ambiance of the time and place in which he lived. The titles of a few of his piano works are as revealing as the music itself: "Footsteps on the Snow," "Dead Leaves," "Gardens Under the Rain," "Sound and Perfume Swirl in the Evening Air." Art of Noise selects a few choice snippets from the Debussy treasure-trove (including a section from the orchestral La Mer) and turns them into a sumptuous sort of pop opera, complete with drum machines, layers of keyboards, energetic rappers, a soprano and even a deep-voiced narrator (the wonderful John Hurt). It's a rich if at times superficial multimedia homage to the ultimate master of disquieting atmospheres.
"Imagine Debussy dreaming in color," intones Hurt during a break between languid ambient noise and fluffy dance beats. This majestic disc will enhance your own dreams, and perhaps serve as a gateway to the disturbingly tranquil works of Debussy himself. (Ernesto Lechner)
THE DYNATONES Shake That Mess (Blue Suit)
From Tut's Ice House to the Black Diamond, you can find the Dynatones workin' 200 nights a year, bringin' their patented brand of '60s soul to all the dancing faces and smiling feet. After two minor LPs and one major-label release, the sharp-dressed band resurfaces on a Toledo, Ohiobased indie with Shake That Mess, a wake-up-and-smell-the-Naugahyde set of smokin' O.P.s that's guaranteed to wear the shine off the dance floor.
As with their '60s cult-jam counterparts Wilmer & the Dukes, the Dynatones' latest lineup consists of an African-American vocalist and six ragin' Caucasians. And if there's a badder soul band out there playin' the juke joints and ski lodges that dot this great land of ours, this too-cool fool will pay his own money to hear 'em. For one, the Dynatones' stripped-to-the-bone (guitar-bass-drums) rhythm section puts the spotlight on spectacular horn charts (tenor saxtrumpettrombone). Check out that interpolation of James Brown's version of "Night Train" into the exit vamp on the Dynatones' rendition of Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Don't Cry No More," or the slow-burning, "who-needed-that-string-section?" workout on Albert King's "Cadillac Assembly Line," and a tougher take on Gary U.S. Bonds' "Bring Her Back" than Bruce Springsteen and Miami Steve's. For two, rather than rely on shopworn soul standards (or thinly veiled rewrites thereof), the Dynatones currently showcase a connoisseur's taste in obscure covers from such semilegendary luminaries as William Bell, Little Johnny Taylor, Bobby Patterson, Arthur Conley, Howard Tate, O.V. Wright, Joe Simon, Junior Parker and Jerry Washington. (Anyone who owns all the original versions is obviously too hip for the room and is hereby excused.)